Take the O’Hare Challenge

Naming things is tricky. Consider Batman Airport in Turkey, Spain’s Moron Airport, Mafia Airport in Tanzania, and Australia’s Useless Loop Airport. Many airports are named for historical people and, like the many oddly named airports around the world, they become accepted and used as shorthand. People flying out of southern Ontario go to Pearson like New Yorkers head to JFK or LaGuardia. We seldom think about the people whose names roll off our tongues. But maybe we should.

Among the more fascinating of the people who have become airports is Edward O’Hare, who we know from Chicago’s airport. Lieutenant Commander O’Hare, whom everyone called Butch, was a Second World War navy fighter pilot. On February 20, 1942, he and his squadron left the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. Minutes later he noted a problem with the fuel in his Grumman F6F Hellcat. He needed to disengage and return to the ship. Heading back alone he spotted a formation of nine Japanese fighter planes heading toward the American fleet. There was no way he could engage them all and would run out of fuel if he tried. But he was the fleet’s only defence.

He tore into the Japanese planes. His 50-calibre rifles ripped into plane after plane as he banked and flew through them again and then again. After several attacks his ammunition was spent. He banked and flew through them yet again, this time trying to clip their tails or wings. The Japanese became disorganized and scattered. Finally, they turned and were gone. O’Hare had downed five enemy planes and damaged more.

O’Hare made it to Lexington on fumes. He reported what had happened with his onboard cameras having captured the action. He became the American Navy’s first ace. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He refused an offer to return home and continued to serve. A year later, O’Hare was killed in an aerial battle. He was 29.

In 1945, the United States Navy renamed a destroyer the USS O’Hare. Four years later, Chicago’s Orchard Depot Airport was renamed the O’Hare International Airport. His skill, courage, and patriotic devotion to duty was such that there was widespread support for the renaming. A statue of O’Hare stands between the first and second terminal. But there’s a twist to the story.

O’Hare’s was born in St. Louis. When his parents divorced, he stayed with his mother and two sisters while his father, Edward, moved to Chicago. His father was a lawyer. Fast Eddie, as he was called, had only one client. His tireless work saved his client from many cases that in the hands of a less skilled attorney would have seen the client jailed. But for years Eddie kept him free and in business. Finally, Eddie had enough and gave the treasury department information that led them to seek a new way of bringing his client to justice. Eight years after his client was jailed, Eddie was killed in a hail of machine gun fire on a Chicago street corner. Fast Eddie’s client was Al Capone.

So Butch O’Hare had never lived in Chicago. His father had enabled years of Chicago violence and crime. And yet Chicago’s airport, America’s busiest, is named O’Hare? Should cancel culture raise its head and cancel O’Hare?

My thought? So what? Butch deserves it. Chicago deserves it. The O’Hare International Airport is well named. I can’t wait for my next time through to seek out O’Hare’s statue and doff my cap.

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